Sunday, August 10, 2008
It is a mild and refreshing Sunday here in this Saloner's corner of the world. For August, we are having surprisingly low-humidity, moderately warm days. It's wonderful!
I considered joining the Olympic Reading Challenge, hosted by Annie, a while back. Ultimately, however, I decided to take a completely different approach to my reading during the Beijing Olympics. Rather than reading American authors, I am reading books by authors in other countries. Yesterday, I started with Independent People by Icelandic author Haldor Laxness, and so far it is turning out to be a wonderful read. Haldor Laxness won the Nobel Prize in 1955, but his books were largely out of print for English readers until Independent People was republished in English in 1997.
It is a delight, and a challenge, to read a book that takes place in a country I know very little about. For books first published in languages such as Spanish, French, Arabic, German, Italian, Chinese, or Japanese, I at least recognize some of the places mentioned and usually know how to pronounce the names of the characters. The only thing I know about Iceland is that beautiful fjords follow the coast, the capital is Reykjavik, and fishing is the source of much of its exports. Since Independent People is not set in the capital, or in a fishing village, but in the valleys where sheep farmers reside, everything I read about is a new experience. It is armchair traveling at its best!
In the Introduction, Brad Leithauser describes the novel as the book of his life. He describes it as a "book of genius that, even in a long bookworm's life, one might never have stumbled upon." Books that are not on the well-trodded path, "in which the flaws of a book are as endearing--as treasurable--as the flaws in the face of one's sole beloved."
Do you have a book of your life? A book that most people would look at you and go, 'huh'? For me, that book would probably be The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. Although well-known, it certainly doesn't do the round in the way that Pride and Prejudice, Grapes of Wrath, or the Bible can. Yet when I first read The Handmaid's Tale in a Women's Lit class, it's impact was profound. An idealistic college student, the novel (combined with a few other factors, such as the Cultural Anthropology course I also took that semester) started me on a path that eventually led towards my study abroad experience on Semester at Sea, a Master's in International Relations, and my work with refugees and asylum seekers. How did one little book do so much? Well, that's a story for another time.
On an end note, as much as I love watching the Olympics, this year is more important to me than ever. One of my former clients, Abebe Fekadu, will be competing at the Beijing Paralympics in September!!! This amazing man, who has overcome so much, is an inspiration to so many. He is a kind, gentle, and humble soul, and I am honored to know him. Originally from Ethiopia, he will be representing Australia in powerlifting. Although the Paralympics don't begin until September, I am already sending "Go Abebe!" vibes towards Beijing. :) I haven't seen Abebe since my wedding in October 2006, right before we moved back from Australia to the United States, but his journey and success are still close to my heart.